By on March 8, 2021

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, LH side view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAfter Americans proved uninterested in buying the luxurious-for-its-time Toyota Crown during the early 1970s, Toyota brought over the new Corona Mark II, then gave its American-market, Chaser-based successor the Cressida name starting in the 1977 model year. The Cressida remained King of Toyotas in North America throughout the 1980s, but the appearance of the Lexus LS400 for the 1990 model year changed everything; Cressida sales collapsed. However, we could buy new Cressidas here all the way through 1992, and I’m always looking for the rare early-1990s models during my junkyard travels. Here’s a ’91 in Denver.

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, LH rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe early Toyota Celsior/Lexus LS400 looked very similar to its Cressida cousin, but it was 400 pounds heavier, 50 horses more powerful, and equipped with a much more modern suspension and a brace of futuristic electronic gadgetry. In 1991, the MSRP on a new LS400 was $38,000, while the Cressida cost just $22,198 (that’s $73,850 and $43,140 in 2021 dollars, respectively). If you wanted a rear-wheel-drive Japanese luxury sedan at a good price, the Cressida offered a lot.

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Cressida was much more closely related to the Supra than it was to the Celsior, sharing its straight-six engine and suspension design. This is the 3.0-liter 7M-GE, rated at 200 horsepower in 1991.

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI still haven’t been able to determine the last model year for a Cressida with a manual transmission in the United States, but it was long before the 1990s and perhaps as early as the late 1970s. Naturally, many American owners of these “four-door Supras” have swapped in five-speeds by now.

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, odometer - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsCressidas tended to rack up absurd mileage totals before being retired, but this one never even made 200,000 miles (or its odometer broke 15 years ago, which I find unlikely for a Toyota of this period).

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe interior probably looked good before ravenous Cressida-owning junkyard shoppers tore it up in their frenzy for trim parts.

1991 Toyota Cressida in Colorado junkyard, wheel - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI’m surprised that no Supra owner has grabbed these alloy wheels, which still have their original center caps.

It has the heart of a lion!

Its JDM counterpart got ads like this one, possibly cannibalizing a few Celsior sales.

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Toyota Cressida...”

  • avatar

    Looking in rock-solid shape.
    Maybe the owner just got tired of those awful automatic shoulder belts?

    • 0 avatar

      $21,000 was a lot in 1991. I didn’t realize these were offered that late.

      Looks like only a 3-speed auto. Even so, Toyota continued making them for the few faithful… the 1992 Camry was just around the corner, and while it didn’t have the nice straight six, it really was a much better car.

      • 0 avatar

        I wouldn’t go that far. The Cressida had luxury-level upholstery, ample power, RWD if that’s what you like, and was built like a tank.

      • 0 avatar

        “Looks like only a 3-speed auto.” No, it’s a 4-speed (see It’s actually a Toyota quirk of that era. Instead of a selector with PRND32L, it’s PRND2L with a button on the shift handle that lets you turn “overdrive” off, which locks out 4th gear. Essentially, ‘selector in D and overdrive button in’ is equivalent to ‘D’ in a conventional 4-speed selector. ‘Selector in D and overdrive button out’ is equivalent to ‘3’ in a conventional 4-speed selector.

        The term “overdrive” is a bit confusing, because while 4th is an overdrive gear, the interface makes you think it’s a 3-speed transmission with a mechanically separate overdrive unit. It’s not; it’s a conventional 4-speed. Toyota’s 1991 setup is not wrong per se, but it is weird IMO.

        My sense is that 3-speeds had so recently been the industry standard that Toyota wanted to tell you, “Hey, this has an overdrive 4th gear.” If someone has a better theory, I’m curious too.

        See picture here for a clearer example:

        – – –

        Regarding the 1992 Camry’s being a much better car, I’ve got to agree with tonycd. Relative to its contemporary US market, the Cressida was a higher-end car than any gen of Camry has been. Certain gens and trim level of Camry may be better by particular criteria, but it’s apples and oranges.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed. I don’t find the OD button midway through the shifter confusing at all because it was a common practice back in the 80s-90s, specially on Japanese vehicles. My uncle’s Camry and Cressida had that setup as well as the Nissan Hardbody we had at home when I was a kid.

        • 0 avatar

          My ’95 Mystique was similar – PRND2L with OD on the top of the shifter. D with the OD button off wouldn’t hold third, though; it just *wouldn’t* go into fourth. So you could ‘manually’ shift it, from first, to second, to third but maybe first or second, and then to regular D.

          Going from that car to a Saab 9-5 with a paddle-shifted 5-speed automatic was a revelation, but neither of them would have won any awards for reliability. Thence to H/K products, and have not looked back!

  • avatar

    Fun thing about the Chaser commercial:
    The German license plate show the combination M-W 3.
    It takes a while to realize that this a leetspeekish version of B M W. (and the M is the license plate letter for Munich, of course.)

  • avatar

    What remains of the exterior looks almost identical to a Honda Accord or Acura Legend of the same era.

  • avatar

    I think i have a 3 digit IQ. I hold a BS and a MS degree. I dont think i m stupid.
    TTAC staff love their sleep?
    Articles posted before noon. Not so many.
    Many posted after 4 PM.
    Or maybe it a all that buffering and choking and programing of the spamish ads and auto load videos.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’ve always been partial to Maxima as it always looked sportier especially in 90s. But the Cressida always had a nicer interior. There was a doctor friend of my parents that graduated from Corollas(our family only graduated to Camrys) and always bought these just to stay in the brand/same dealer.
    The mid 80s Maxima that was a hand me down to a teenage friend was the first manual transmission car I’d driven that wasn’t a 4cyl.Kinda why I always liked g35/7s

  • avatar

    Cressida was just too conservative, and lacked the badge for the BMW money it asked.

    • 0 avatar

      Only Cressidas *didn’t* ask for BMW money. They were 5-Series sized and less-than-3-Series priced.

      Nine years earlier than ’91, but my family’s friends/neighbors’ ’82 (X60) Cressida was very comparable to our ’82 (E28) 5-Series in form and function. Looking at the Wikipedia info boxes confirms my memory; length, height, width, and wheelbase are almost dead on for the two cars.

      FWIW, that particular Cressida was a better car than that particular 5-Series and a *much* better car with price factored in. I never drove it, and I’ll assume the BMW had advantages in steering feel and high-speed handling. Even factoring that in, however, and further factoring in the specter of a head gasket issue, I’d take the Cressida. And sample size of two, so grain of salt, but that Cressida and an ’84 Supra belonging to different friends were faultless over 25+ years of collective ownership (10+ for the Cressida, 15+ for the Supra).

      I agree that many Americans have an issue with the concept of a premium model under a regular make, so it makes sense that Toyota phased the Cressida out of the US market as Lexus was phased in. The BMW price comp isn’t really a good one, though.

    • 0 avatar

      “Cressida was just too conservative”

      I would rather say anonymous like all other Toyota cars. But it was better than ugly “bold” design of modern Toyotas. And I was a Toyota fan in 90s.

  • avatar

    Does no one remember the debacle with these engines and the failing Head Gaskets?

    This is actually NOT a good car, and a misfire from Toyota. This engine (and it’s twin in the non-turbo Supra) had an issue with the head not torqued all the way. Cars would reach the 80K- 100K miles and promptly blow up (unless you had done the fix) Toyota buried this and never really officially recalled the engine.

    I bought a 1991 Cressida, with a gentle 96K miles. I *knew* about the head gasket issue so, I also ordered a head gasket kit. Alas, the car blew up in day 3 of ownership before the kit arrived. It failed badly. I went to the junkyard (found 2 supras and 2 cressidas, all with bad engines) and me and a buddy found an engine that seemed ‘ok’ (w/102K miles) Strangely, only one loose bolt in the head…arrived at home to find same engine failure, now with a hole in a cylinder wall. FML. Anyway, they are great cars when they work and kinda a proto-lexus but really not Toyota’s finest hour.

    • 0 avatar

      The Toyota Celica’s of that same period had head gasket issues at around 100k. My kids went through three Celica’s from that period (an ’89, a ’90, and a ’91) – all blew head gaskets, one at 87k and the longest lasting made it to 111k.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t know about this – but that would explain all the oil deposits all over that engine bay that go beyond old car that just didn’t get a lot of cleaning love.

  • avatar

    Friend had a 1984 Cressida with the manual. He let me learn how to drive manual with it. He brought it to college. It threw a rod on the way back home, 1996.

  • avatar

    My wife and I had a 91 Cressi, absolutely loved it. So well made, solid, smooth ride and smooth power. You could open the sunroof at any speed and get no buffeting and the greenhouse was huge. With RWD it was still very good in snow. But, we had the head gasket failure, or simply BHG as Cressi fans call it, at 115,000km. I had it fixed at a Toyota dealer for (gulp) $3,100. The following winter it blew again, utterly heart-breaking as it was in mint condition. I sold it for $800 to a guy who put a Chevy LS and a 5-speed in it. Amazing cars though, I’d consider getting an ’88 with the different engine.

  • avatar

    Three theories:

    A) Grandma or grandpa died or reached the age they can’t drive anymore, and kids or grandkids didn’t want to deal with it. The car only average 6200 miles a year

    B) Traded in somewhere (maybe due to A) and given how oily, crusty the engine is deferred maintenance from dried out seals caused by sitting too long had it go to auction

    C) Stil soldiering on, got a light front end hit, and they actually tried to insurance claim it, took the totaled vehicle check and this is where it ended up

  • avatar

    I had an ’86 as an auction runner in 2006, LOVED it. Then one weekend it was in our “value” lot and it was sold, I was not happy come Tuesday but was basically told to shove it. Good times.

  • avatar

    Last year of the manual Cressida with a limited slip differential was in model year 1987 for USA. Its a shame that Cressida is in the junk yard. Nowadays just a shell with no engine fetches for a grand or more. Cressida values have surged and are popular for motorsports. Especially the last gen Cressidas having great stiff chassis which offer great handling. Its too bad the American market X chassis never got the 1JZ twin turbo engines like the Japanese market versions.

    Lovely high quality cars that were praised when new and till this day theres a lot of aftermarket performance parts.

  • avatar

    Here’s a statement that should stir up a few hornets: these were every bit the equal of the W124 300E, for less money and usually less trouble.

    I knew several parents with them when I was in high school and I always enjoyed the ride.

    That said, the first time I had a chance to drive an LS400, it was obviously something from the future in a way these were not.

    • 0 avatar

      When we first brought our 91 Cressida home I parked it next to my 2000 Lexus GS and did some comparing. Of course they would be very similarly made, and of nearly the same quality. But yes, the Lexus obviously had about $15-20,000 more engineering put into it. Both fabulous cars though, still daily driving the Lexus BTW.

  • avatar

    I remember these Cressidas because a cousin had one. It was a hand me down from her parents which actually bought that one used for not so much money in the late 90s. They were upgrading from a 1987 Camry so the bump in luxury, power and quality was signifcant.
    I wasn’t fond of the exterior light blue color shade but I loved the plush seats covered in royal blue leather. Oh I miss those non-grayscale interiors of the time…

  • avatar


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